Former Governors present opposing views of 4-year term

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(Host) Two former Vermont Democratic governors presented very different points of view (today / yesterday) on a proposed constitutional amendment to extend the governor’s term to four years.

Howard Dean, who’s now chairman of the National Democratic Party, returned to Vermont to testify about his own reversal.

Dean supported the idea when he was governor, but told the Senate Government Operations committee that he now opposes it.

Democrat Madeleine Kunin lent her support to the plan.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The public hearing room at the Statehouse was packed to hear the testimony of the former governors.  Vermont is one of just two states in the country that still has a two year term for governor – New Hampshire is the other.

Howard Dean said he opposes the four year term because he thinks having shorter terms is a good way to keep politicians accountable:

(Dean) "I understand why the polls say that more Vermonters favor a 4 year term than not, because they get sick of the politics and sick of the ads and sick of the long winded speeches and so forth every four years. I think that’s the price you have to pay to live in a real democracy."

(Kinzel) Madeleine Kunin strongly disagreed. She argued that a two year term discourages governors from tackling controversial issues because there’s always an election around the corner:

(Kunin) "So my bottom line is that I think you get better policy.I do think it’s a realistic recognition of how the role of the governor of the state of Vermont has changed, and it is putting faith in the people that they will make the right choice every four years."

(Kinzel) Dean challenged that assessment. He noted that Act 60 and the Civil Unions law were both passed during his tenure and he says it was helpful to have an election after the Civil Unions debate:

(Dean) "It was a really bitter nasty debate unlike most things that go on in Vermont. After that election I think the book was closed and people said ‘ok we’ve done this there’s been an election we have our chance to get rid of these folks’.  And they did get rid of some of us – they got rid of the House majority that became Republican. I think it’s a good thing to not take the cynical view that ‘well let’s do this now because 3 years from now everybody will forget about it’ – I don’t think that’s a good thing in government. I think we ought to have elections about controversial things."

(Kinzel) Kunin told the committee that she’s also worried that maintaining a two year term will make governors too dependent on special interest money:

(Kunin) "A governor has to raise money every two years, including from special interest groups. There’s no way you don’t in the state of Vermont that you might be more beholden to some of those contributors than if you had to do it every four years".

(Kinzel) The Senate Government Operations committee is also considering an amendment that would extend legislative terms to four years if changes were made to the governor’s term.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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